The Third Princess was already eight years old. Although she still had a round face and was chubby and fair in skin, she became more composed after being the older sister, busy in taking care of her little brother and sister in my palace, absolutely an elder sister. The Fifth Prince was more than two years old and kind of good at speaking. He somehow learned some honey-sweet words from somewhere. Even Noble Consort Wen who didn’t like kids was cajoled by him. One day, when she chatted with me and Consort Shu, she even said words like “my little Fifth Prince” in public, frightening us out while remaining totally shameless herself. From then on, she never said words like bringing up sons only for the benefit of the old Emperor.
We highly doubted that Jieyu Song, the great author of scripts for story-telling, was deemed to teach the Fifth Prince to say those words. However, whatever we said, she refused to admit. Until the release of her new book in which the male protagonist said the same words to flatter his lover almost 800 times every day did the truth came out. We took this opportunity to force her to update two chapters every day. However, pushing too hard made Jieyu Song unhappy, who made the female protagonist who we loved deeply be beaten and deceived, breaking our hearts. We had to apologize to her and gave her a pair of soft turquoise satin mousseline shoes embroidered with green-leaf orchid of Consort Wen and Braised Pork with Cherry Juice exquisitely cooked by Consort Shu. In this way, we retrieved the happy ending of the male and female protagonists.
The children were in a good relationship. As they played together, it was unavoidable that sometimes they had conflict with each other. But they made up very quickly. Consort Xian and Consort De often visited me with the Fourth Prince. Almost about the same age of the little Fifth Prince, he was totally different. He behaved well and had good manners. Whenever you asked him to greet someone, he would do as you asked. He quietly sat in the arms of Consort De, never shouting or squirming, producing a sharp contrast with the naughty little Fifth Prince.
It was interesting to put together the little Fourth Prince and the little Fifth Prince, because although they were about the same age, one spoke clearly but seldom spoke, while the other talked endlessly though he could not speak clearly.
The little Fourth Prince said, “Wish you well, Liangliang.”
The little Fifth Prince said, “Give me a hug, Liangliang. Liangliang, you are so pretty. Give you a flower, Liangliang~ Liangliang...”
I invited them to eat dessert.
The little Fourth Prince, “Thanks, Liangliang.”
The little Fifth Prince, “Wow, Liangliang, you are the best. Little Fourth Prince likes you! Liangliang...”
Sometimes Consort Shu teased the two little kids out of ill will, “Little Fourth Prince and little Fifth Prince, your moms and the Empress, which one do you think is prettier?”
The little Fourth Prince, “Hmm... Hmm... Hmm...”
The little Fifth Prince, “They are all pretty! My mom is pretty! Liangliang is pretty! Liangliang and we are all pretty! Give Liangliang a flower!”
Then the little Fifth Prince gave the little flowers he picked in the garden in Weiyang Palace to me, Consort Shu, Noble Consort Wen, Consort Xian, Consort De, Jieyu Song and Beauty Wang as a present. Before giving us the flower, he would repeat again, “Liangliang is pretty! Give Liangliang flower!” That made us all feel honored and couldn’t help picking him up and kissing him. Then he repeated, “The little Fifth Prince loves Liangliang...”
The small Fourth Prince looked at this one and then that one. Finally he fixed his eyes on “a child born by others”-- the little Fifth Prince and was on the edge of crying with his mouth pouting. The little Fifth Prince, to our surprise, obediently ran over to kiss him on the head, “Forth elder brother, give you the flower! I love you, fourth elder brother!” Then the little brothers went to play hand in hand.
Holding the first flower she ever received from a man in life, Consort De was so touched that tears came into her eyes. In the following days, she came to Weiyang Palace every day to try to take the little Fifth Prince away under Noble Consort Wen’s eyes in the name of paying respects to me:
“Little Fifth Prince, do yo you like Consort De? Yes? Little Fifth Prince, follow Consort De to Jingning Palace, OK? There are many beautiful flowers in Jingning Palace... ”
Noble Consort Wen who had no interest in children looked up while embroidering, “No!”
Consort De, “It’s OK, little Fifth Prince. Your mom doesn’t go but you can follow me to go to Jining Palace. You can sleep together with your fourth elder brother! OK?”
Noble Consort Wen, “Dear Empress, there are too many flowers in Jingning Palace. How about pulling them up? A selected day is no better than today. How about today?”
Consort De: ...
Considering child rearing was Consort De’s favorite hobby, we could not blame her to try to take the little Fifth Prince away every day. It was said that as the eldest daughter in family, she learned a lot in taking care of her little brothers and sisters and especially loved kids. Therefore, she was obsessed in sharing with us her experience in child rearing. No matter how unwanted we were to listen to, she would always make use of every chance.
Consort Shu, “I’m in a good mood today. Let me make Steamed Grass Carp in Vinegar Gravy for you.”
Consort De, “Oops. Thank you dear. What a lucky gourmet I am today. Speaking of food, we must take great care of what the kids eat, such as...”
Noble Consort Wen, “I made two little caps for Changsi and Changyi. Let them wear to see it they are suitable.”
Consort De, “Oh, Noble Consort, you are so handy. Speaking of the clothes of children, we should...”
She talked on and on. Consort Xian told us in secret that she became disappointed to the Emperor after he refused to listen to her child rearing experience. One day when we brought that up, Consort De lowered her voice after checking there was no outsider.
“You all have to keep an eye. The Emperor, tut, tut, are good on the whole. But, hmm, he doesn’t want to learn the four basic operations like changing the diapers for the Fourth Prince, who is his own son. That is too, right? Tut, tut, tut, he is a father! Are we pitiful to take care of the baby alone after giving birth to them, right? Thank God I had the help of Consort Xian, tut, tut, tut. So shameless is he. The Fourth Prince is the son of him and me instead of Consort Xian and me, right? Consort Shu has already gone through the tough days, because the Third Princess is easy to look after now after growing up. Noble Consort can also easily handle it with the help of Jieyu Song and Beauty Wang. Dear Empress, you are the most hard, right? You have to look after the two kids all by yourself. Did the Emperor help you with things like changing the diapers or kids’ breast feeding at night?”
I replied no and Consort De showed a face of aversion, “It’s not OK to be a qualified father! Right? Half of the child belongs to him! To tell you, I liked him in the past, because he treated me well. I was even sad when I found he was in love with the Empress. I even bad-mouthed a few of the Empress. Now I can’t be more regretful! At that time, I was too young, right? To know whether a man is good or not, see what he does after having children, right? How can we say a man good who even doesn’t change diapers for the children?”
What kind of a special flower the Emperor was that he could form such a harem. I imagined the scene Consort De taught the emperor to change the diapers for the child. I thought he must be a kind Emperor because he not only doesn’t punish her but also goes to Jingning Palace to visit her from time to time.
After all, we could not judge an emperor with the standards of a man. A good emperor doesn’t have to be a qualified father. Speaking of kids in the harem, there was also Consort Chun’s Third Prince and Shuyi Yao’s Fifth Princess. However, Consort Chun was very mysterious and never communicated with anyone.
“Consort Chun is also a special flower. Actually she entered the Eastern Palace with Liangdi Xu, earlier than Consort Xian and me. When the Emperor was still Chu Wang, there was only Yaoyao. Only after he became the crown prince did he one by one get our four Consorts.” The weather got cold, and coal flaming with silver flame was lighted. However, it was still quite cold. Therefore, Consort Shu, Noble Consort Wen and I all covered ourselves in a blanket on a lounge chair with thick mat on it, chatting while eating the delicious sunflower seeds made by Consort Shu.
“Consort Chun is the cousin of the Emperor, whose own mother died early. The harem at the time of the late Emperor was not that peaceful, with Empress Dowager Renhe dominating the harem, who could not tolerate others and was hard to get along with. The Emperor’s own mother was forced to death by her. The Imperial Palace and the harem are closely related. If the Imperial Palace is not peaceful, neither does the harem. Although the Emperor is not a qualified husband, he is in no doubt a qualified emperor. He took great charge of the Imperial Palace, leaving those Consorts with bad will lack of support. They don’t dare to outdo. The harem of the late Emperor was just like a battle. Although I don’t like the Emperor, I have to gratitude it that he regulates the family and rulesthe state well so that I can live such a comfortable life in the harem.”
Noble Consort Wen and I only wanted to listen to the story. Who cared about the Emperor? Throwing shells of the sunflower seeds to Consort Shu, we shouted, “Talk about the story of Consort Chun!”
Consort Shu closed her eyes, pretending to hear nothing. We wanted to go to scratch her but were unwilling to lift the tablet. So we shouted together:
“Talk about the story of Consort Chun--”
“Talk about the story of Consort Chun--”
“Consort Chun ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!”
I had no idea how many sneezes Consort Chun made in Yihe Palace or whether she called the imperial doctor.
“The Emperor is not the prince born by Empress Dowager Renhe and his own mother died early. In theory, he was the last to be the emperor. However, he was such a shameless and evil man that he put aside the hatred of the death of his mother and as a husband and went to seduce Xu Chanfang. Bah, what a thing he is, so shameless. Totally a waste of Yaoyao’s love. Such a man in the west of Liaozhou must have been beaten to death...”
After abusing the Emperor for a long period, she finally came to the point, “Xu Chanfang was the eye of her family. Empress Dowager Renhe did so many evil things and finally her son and daughter were smothered to death by her private senior servant. It was said pregnant Xiuyi Wang of the late Empress was killed by Empress Dowager Renhe. We didn’t know that Xu Chanfang’s elder sister was a trusted follower of Empress Dowager Renhe. The elder sister killed the two children with unknown means... The Xu family was powerful enough to easily kill any Consort or prince and princess. Considering Empress Dowager Renhe was so evil, she deserved to lose her children. Bah, it was said that Empress Dowager Renhe cried to death when the late Emperor died. I don’t buy a single word of it. She must be killed by the Emperor. He is such a guy who can restrain his revenge for such a long period...”
“Where were we? Oh, the Emperor went to seduce Xu Chanfang. With a handsome appearance and hypocrisy which made him look attractive, he was certain to succeed in seducing Xu Chanfang. They even exchanged many cheesy poems, which Xu Chanfang even held in arms when she died... At first, the Xu family disagreed with their love. Considering there were 12 princes of the late Emperor, who knew who Chu Wang was! What they took a fancy to was the previous crown prince, whose mother was sent to the Imperial Palace by the Xu family. Then his mother was killed and he survived... After the loss of her children, Empress Dowager Renhe was very fond of Xu Chanfang very much. Whenever Xu Chanfang shed tears, she would feel distressed. At that time, the previous prince did a stupid thing. He somewhat knew the thing about his own mother and worshiped her in secret, which made Empress Dowager Renhe indignant...”
“The Emperor was also lucky enough to run into the death of Taishi Xu, thus supporting the whole Xu family all on his own. The rest members in Xu family were all incapable and began to support Chu Wang. Finally, Chu Wang became the Emperor. That is why we have the saying Man proposes, God disposes. If Taishi Xu hadn’t been dead, who knew who would get the thrown... In this way, the old Emperor became the crown prince. At the day of his coronation, he conferred with Xu Chanfang as Liangdi of the Crown Prince. It was said that they worshiped the Heaven and ancestors hand in hand like a couple. Who remembered the positive wife Yaoyao? Were it not for the powerful elderly prime minister Shen, the old lady would force the Emperor to divorce Yaoyao...”
“The late Emperor wanted to free his son from the dominance of the Xu family to prevent him from suffering from the same distressed experience of him. Therefore, the late Empress ordered him to take Consort Chun and me because all of our family were somewhat powerful to help him. My family had station troops in the west of Liaozhou and Consort Chun had Nanyang Marquis, who just made military merits in the south front and was the close uncle of him. It was said that the Emperor’s own mother was bullied to death because of lack of support of a distinguished and powerful family. Therefore, her little brother was determined to join the army and became the Nanyang Marquis later. Then, when the late Emperor was dying, he ordered the Emperor to get Consort Xian, doing good to the son who he didn’t like that much.”
“Consort Xian was very lucky for the Emperor acceded soon after she entered the Imperial Palace only for a short time. We were not that fortunate! Xu Chanfang tried every means to bully Yaoyao, later to bully Consort Chun and me after we entered the palace. She was gloomy. In surface she seemed graceful and majestic, while behind our back she tried various means to torture us without leaving any trace. She vented her hatred on us instead of on the Emperor who actually cheated her. I don’t know what was wrong with her. Being cheated by men, she vented her anger on women...The Emperor is such an astute man that attracts Consort Chun to call him dear brother. She even refused to change the title of the Emperor regardless of numerous punishment of Xu Chanfang! In contrast, I am kind of smart. Seeing three of the consorts were in love with him, I decided to step out of the situation. Who am I? I am the different firework on earth! Why do I love a man that people all love?! It is not playing the Leaf Card, which requires four people to play together.”
She talked for a long time but still didn’t talk about Consort Chun at all. Noble Consort Wen and I debunked her ability to tell stories. That provoked Consort Shun and she began to throw shells of sunflower seeds to us. We, while throwing back, shouted as well to show our momentum, as if we were having a fight in battle.
The result of the fright was Consort Shu, who overrated her ability to fight against us by herself, was defeated by us so badly and complained there was no adequate shells. Thus, she had to go on telling story:
“Consort Chun always thinks too much of oneself and looks down upon me. When I went to the Eastern Palace, I thought now that we were all bullied by Xu Chanfang, it would be a good idea for us three to play together and look after each other in case of punishment. Therefore, I often invited her and Yaoyao to go to bathroom together. To my surprise, she not only refused me but also criticized me as a rough and ill-bred person. Is she silly?! Every human being has to go to the bathroom! What is rough with it?! If girls don’t go to the bathroom together, how do we develop friendship?!”
“Later I realized it was normal for her to be silly as she was the cousin of the Emperor.”
“Consort Chun was much more courageous than Yaoyao and me, who chose to shut up and allow Xu Chanfang to bully us at her will. We thought that it was useless to revolt because she could bully us due to such a powerful family to depend on. As long as her family was powerful, we could do nothing but tolerate... Plus the dominance of Empress Dowager Renhe, we were always wrong whatever...”
Noble Consort Wen, “Just admit you are timid.”
“Timid? If we were not timid, how could we survive to the accession of the Emperor? Consort Chun was brave enough to continue to call the emperor cousin for two years. Consort pointed two fingers, ‘She lost two kids. One was lost because Xu Chanfang punished her to kneel down for a day and a night given that Xu knew Consort Shu was pregnant... We went to save her but almost brought ourselves down. She lost her baby and hated us as well. To our face, she complained why we didn’t come earlier. I always doubt how her parents breed such a girl who knows nothing about speaking. If Jiale spoke like this, I would be glad to beat her to death.”
“The Third Prince was born on the third year of the accession of the Emperor when the Xu family was losing power. Oh, Wen Yuanyuan, at that time, you entered the Imperial Palace. Did you forget Consort Chun, who refused to talk to you as if she were a fairy even when pregnant?”
Noble Consort Wen recalled the painful past and sat up from the chair out of anger in a indignant face, “She she she she she dared to say me goof around and embroider mess things everyday instead of trying to serve the Emperor well! Messy things! Messy things! She is such a woman with no taste for art! She doesn’t have an elegant hobby and criticize me for goofing around?! Can she distinguish flat embroidery, segment stria embroidery, French Knot and coil needle embroidery?! Ah?! She knows nothing!!! What can she do besides pull a long face, pretending to be cold but not flying to the sky?!”
Enraged Noble Consort Wen was really horrible. I holding a small tablet in arms nodded like a chick while Consort Shu laughed heartily, “You two actually had such a past, ha ha ha ha ha. Alright, don’t stare at me! Then, Yaoyao’s little Chang’an died... And the Emperor intended to let Yaoyao adopt the Third Prince. Since then, Consort Chun became ill from time to time... Alas, the Emperor is a man who never makes but always breaks. He mistakes stupidity for wisdom, thinking Yaoyao would be happy by giving her a child of her child’s age... What a silly man he is. He makes Consort Chun hate Yaoyao, while Yaoyao doesn’t want her child at all! Oh, my! The pair of cousins are in such a silly family.”
I asked, “Does Consort Chun be in good relationship with anyone in the harem?”
Consort Shu shook her head, “You are too ignorant. A fairy doesn’t need friends.”
My fault. I regretted.
Noble Consort Wen finally calmed down, “I really don’t remember she is in good relationship with someone. Speaking of that, the Third Prince is now six years old, right? Do you hear that child speak?”
I said, “No. But that doesn’t mean anything. Jiale also doesn’t speak before outsiders neither!”
Noble Consort Wen, “I don’t care. To me, Consort Chun is a strange psycho.”
Consort Shu, “...Well, I remember Consort Xian once insisted on greeting to her and trying to sit beside her every day for three months, trying to lead her to integrate into the big harem family.”
Consort Shu, “She told Consort Xian to be quiet.”
Consort Shu was absolutely a psycho! We could never bear it that someone did criticize Consort Xian, who was the most kind, virtuous, and tolerant lady!
1.Liangliang: is actually Niangniang, the kid can’t speak it clearly.
2.Leaf Card: a kind of game like Mahjong.
3.Liangdi: the highest-level concubine of the crown prince, second to the Crown Princess.